GM Interim CEO Whitacre Gets Permanent Job

BY Carolyn O'Hara  January 25, 2010 at 11:54 AM EST

Ed Whitacre, Jr., the interim CEO of General Motors since Dec. 1, has been named permanent CEO at a news conference in Detroit this morning.

“The board of directors asked if I would be willing to stay on at GM and help continue the company’s road back to success,” Mr. Whitacre said in a statement. “Having spent the past few months learning the business, meeting with our employees, customers and dealers, and working with the GM leadership team, I was both honored and pleased to accept this role. This is a great company with an even greater future, and I want to be part of it.”

The 68-year-old Whitacre, the former CEO of AT&T, came on as chairman of GM last June and then interim CEO in December, after former CEO Fritz Henderson, who had been with the troubled automaker since 1984, resigned. That move was understood to be a signal that the board of directors wanted the company to move in a new direction and toward recovery at a faster pace.

Within GM, offering Whitacre the permanent spot “was expected,” says David Shepardson of the Detroit News.

“It gives the company stability,” Shepardson says. “GM has had three CEOs in the past 10 months and one of the problems was going to be finding a CEO who could live with the pay restrictions.This is a company that has received enormous government assistance and it’s under the [Special Master for TARP Executive Compensation] Kenneth Feinberg pay restrictions….[Whitacre] doesn’t need the money.”

Whitacre has made several personnel changes at the top of the company in recent weeks. Last month, he hired Microsoft’s former chief financial officer to be GM’s CFO. He has hired new lobbyists for the company and brought on new advisors. He has also made clear his intention to have the company pay back billions in outstanding government loans this year.

“But beyond the personnel changes, he’s changing the culture,” Shepardson says. “He comes in and says, ‘I’m going to hold people accountable.’ He has instituted regular Monday meetings with his top people. He’s not a car guy – he won’t get in the weeds. But he knows business.”